A recent article in The Times of Israel, What will it take to keep new immigrants in Israel? by Jessica Steinberg, quoted my strong belief that we can do more as a country to help new immigrants. But I, in no way, agree with the tone or message of the article.
We are blessed to be living in one of the greatest periods of Jewish history.
Jews from around the world have reached the highest of levels of success in every sector within society. Jews continue to play pivotal leadership roles in shaping and informing Western civilization. There is so much for us to be grateful for. But in my opinion, the greatest achievement of our generation is the return of Jews to our homeland to take part in the Jewish people’s greatest project – the building of the State of Israel.
This is a unique period in history. Kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles, is taking place before our eyes. These are truly remarkable times.
Most incredible is how easy Aliyah appears. Airplane tickets are paid for, grants are disbursed and governmental rights and benefits are bestowed upon all who are willing to uproot their lives and take a chance on a country that has succeeded against all odds. These factors are not to be taken lightly. There is no other country that opens its arms and pocketbooks to new immigrants in this fashion.
But we know that nothing worthwhile in life comes that easy. The State of Israel was crafted by the vision and hard work of immigrants who struggled in ways we cannot relate to our fathom in our times. But they had a vision. They had a goal. They were dreamers. And nothing was going to stand in their way. And with God’s help they succeeded and handed us, the fortunate immigrants who move to Israel by choice and not out of necessity, a functioning and thriving state to become our home.
The above-mentioned article included voices claiming that Olim are not taken care of, that they do not receive the attention they deserve and are “dropped off like a hot potato” after they arrive. The inclusion of my name and my words in such an article implied that I concurred with those sentiments. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Is Aliyah hard? It sure is. Are there unexpected challenges at nearly every turn? There sure are.
But I can attest both as a relatively recent immigrant and as a former Knesset member that those blanket statements about being abandoned after Aliyah, are simply untrue. Yes, I believe we must work together to go even further in easing and improving the process of immigrant integration and there is much to be done. But we must be honest when doing so and not exaggerate our gripes with the government and with the various Aliyah organizations.
On a very personal note, I have been a beneficiary of the incredible work of organizations such as Nefesh B’Nefesh who, it must be noted, do not receive a single shekel from the Israeli government for their myriad of post Aliyah services. The millions of dollars of grants that they distribute, employment services, government advocacy, professional staff guiding Olim through the maze of government bureaucracy and the hundreds of post Aliyah events that Nefesh B’Nefesh hosts are all funded solely by its fundraising efforts and its partners. Nefesh B’Nefesh is by no means alone in these efforts. Organizations such as AACI, TELFED, Kalitah – for French Olim, the Jewish Agency, and others all try to help ease the integration of Olim.
Aliyah requires a great measure of personal responsibility, creativity and patience. In order to achieve a successful Aliyah, new immigrants must manage their expectations and take personal ownership of their own destiny. Each person must conduct a personal and professional evaluation and understand that their obligation is to use the gifts that were bestowed upon them to contribute and build a meaningful life in their chosen homeland. This takes time. This takes patience. This takes perseverance. And this takes vision – keeping our focus on the special times in which we live and the miraculous blessing which has been bestowed upon us to call the Holy Land our home.
I am thankful that I have been put into a position in which I can be of help to new Olim. My inbox is filled on a daily basis with people who turn to me for assistance. I am in regular contact with ALL organizations which seek to help new immigrants, to learn more about the most pressing needs and to see if I can be of any assistance. As a result of the constant flow of request for assistance, and the ongoing briefings I receive from the organizations providing services to Olim, Deputy Minister Michael Oren and I formed a new Knesset caucus to improve and enhance the integration experience of North American Olim. (Most of the issues that we will be addressing will also improve the absorption of Olim from all countries.) Our hope is to expand government funding to include more post-Aliyah services and to remove many of the unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles which make the Aliyah experience more challenging and difficult. We are committed to staying the course and doing whatever is necessary to help all new Olim but these efforts in no way detract from our deep gratitude and appreciation for all that the State of Israel gives to new Olim. We believe in civil discourse alongside realistic expectations with regards to a government that must also put its limited resources towards securing the state, educating its millions of children, and feeding the elderly including thousands of Holocaust survivors who live below the poverty line.
Thank God, the overwhelming majority of new immigrants integrate into Israeli society, remain in Israel, and contribute greatly to the State. Contrary to the exaggerated quotes in the original article, the facts distinctly point to an unprecedented historic Aliyah/absorption retention rate, especially with regards to North American Olim. But of course it saddens me whenever I hear of new Olim who decide that they have to leave Israel and am often involved with trying to help them before they ultimately decide to return to their countries of origin. But I also maintain contact with many of them and those who don’t lose sight of the remarkable times in which we live and the miraculous gift called the State of Israel tell me that they hope to return or, at the very least, raise their children to move to Israel.
As we approach Tisha B’Av and remember the tragedies which befell the Jewish people during that tragic period it would serve all of us well to remember two things: 1) We live in the best of times where we are coming home after 2,000 years. We should think about what our ancestors would have given up for the opportunity to spend 15 minutes breathing the air of Israel, let alone to live here, and be thankful to the government and to all of the organizations who work day and night to help new Olim, even if there is room for improvement. 2) The divisiveness which led to the Temple’s destruction and the ensuing exile. We must recommit ourselves to unity and working together on all fronts but especially for the common goal of building and strengthening the State of Israel for all who come through her gates.